The behavior of Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim, Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran has overshadowed equally troubling problems with other members of the Saratoga Springs City Council.
Minita Sanghvi, as the Commissioner of Finance, is supposed to be the watchdog of city spending. She is also in charge of the IT department and is supposed to manage the city’s website. “Supposed to” are the key words here.
Unfortunately, Commissioner Sanghvi, in spite of her self-promotion for allegedly planning the city’s finances into the future, has yet to demonstrate this pledge. She also has routinely dismissed concerns over the chronic problems with the functioning and design of the city’s website, which is her responsibility as well.
How Will The City Find The Money To Pay The New Firefighters?
At the beginning of 2022, when the current Council members took office, the city applied for and was awarded a federal “Safer Grant.” This grant was for $4.1 million dollars to pay for sixteen new firefighters for three years. The catch is that the grant requires the city to support these new positions for an additional two years following the end of the grant. The cost to the city for those two years will run over $3,000,000.00.
At the time the grant was awarded over a year ago, I expressed great concern over how the city would absorb these future costs. This post went into the issues in some detail. Of particular note were comments by past Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, who argued that the city would need to start immediately to put aside money to help address the issue before the inevitable crunch in 2026 when the grant ran out. This is advice that Commissioner Sanghvi has apparently ignored.
I wrote to Commissioner Sanghvi in 2022 when she was preparing the 2023 budget, asking what she was doing to prepare the city to be able to meet this enormous looming financial obligation. When she did not answer, I asked to meet with her. This time she responded but told me that she would meet with me in two months after the budget was adopted. That delay was convenient because it meant that she did not have to address the issue when she could actually begin to do something about it. In fact, I do not consider it unfair to speculate that she did not want to discuss it because she had no answer. Just maintaining the existing budget required her to raise taxes and it would have been more than inconvenient to have to explain where another $3,000,000+ would come from if they had to be paid that year. To date, she has yet to acknowledge the threat this represents to the city finances and cope with the need to immediately take steps to address this.
Ms. Sanghvi recently went to the media about the city’s finances. In the article, she went on at some length about how she was busy establishing long-term plans regarding the city’s finances.
This prompted me to write her about how she was planning to pay the millions of dollars she would need to comply with the requirements of the Safer Grant for firefighters.
Sent: Monday, April 17, 2023 12:10 PM
To: ‘Minita Sanghvi’
Cc: ‘ron kim’; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;
Subject: Fire Fighters
The cost for the city to maintain sixteen firefighters for two years after the grant for them runs out will run approximately $3,000,000.00. What actions have you taken, and do you plan to take to prepare for coming up with this money to cover these costs?
After several weeks of silence, it was apparent that Commissioner Sanghvi was not going to answer my email, so I attended the May 6, 2023, meeting to ask her in person.
In this clip, Commissioner Sanghvi asserts that she is working hard on a plan. I noted to her that her predecessor, Michele Madigan, was quite concerned about how the city would deal with this. It is hard to see in this video clip, but at this point, Commissioner Sanghvi shook her head and smiled in an unfortunate manner that documented her dismissal of both myself and Madigan. People watching this video will note me saying at this point that I am happy I am amusing her.
She then asserted that she had spoken to Madigan, who she claimed had said nothing about it. She went on belittling Madigan by going on about this is a democracy, and everyone has a right to their opinion. She also said she would contact Madigan.
Sanghvi did contact Madigan, but rather than solicit her advice on the implications of the firefighter grant, she simply told Madigan, as she did me, that she was working on a plan.
It is also worth noting that she observed that she has not yet even begun working on this year’s budget.
She doesn’t seem to grasp that she should have considered how the city would handle maintaining the firefighters as required by the grant before she supported and accepted it.
I am deeply worried about the city’s finances, and the fact that she refuses to even acknowledge simple questions about how she plans to handle the costs of the firefighters is truly chilling. I believe that this city is headed toward a real fiscal crisis.
Commissioner Sanghvi Unable To Properly Manage City Website
The Commissioner of Finance also oversees the IT department, which is responsible for, among other things managing the city website. The city’s website is an important window into city hall. Unfortunately, on Sanghvi’s watch, the city website has experienced numerous problems, from simply being inaccessible to links that don’t work and documents and videos of meetings that are not posted on a timely basis, if at all.
I have repeatedly documented problems with the IT department under Sanghvi:
Most recently, in this post, I documented that the IT department failed to include the resolution establishing the fee schedule for outdoor dining that was supposed to be linked to the agenda. In spite of her failure to provide the resolution and in spite of the fact that both Mayoral candidate Chris Mathiesen and I complained during the public comment period about the missing resolution, the entire Council voted to adopt it anyway.
Confusion Over No Knock Warrants On City Website
The problems that arise when the website is not properly updated were apparent at the April 18 City Council meeting when considerable confusion arose over the proposal initially put forward by Mayor Kim to ban “no-knock warrants.”
The city posts the upcoming City Council agendas on the Friday before City Council meetings. On the day of the Tuesday, April 18, meeting, Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub met with Kim to discuss his objections to a resolution that had been crafted by Kim on no-knock warrants and posted on that night’s City Council agenda. Kim’s resolution called for a complete ban on no-knock warrants as originally called for by the Task Force on Police Reform. Golub supported the general concept but argued that there are circumstances where the target of the warrant could be armed and dangerous, so knocking on the door puts the police at risk. Kim agreed to change his resolution to limit warrants to these situations rather than propose a total ban.
Granted, the change occurred on the same day as the meeting. Still, it made a mockery of properly informing the public of impending city action, i.e., the adoption of the resolution. Unfortunately, the IT department did not post the revised resolution on the City Council’s agenda to properly inform the public as to what the Council would actually be voting on. People addressing the Council during the public comment period had no idea that they were commenting on the wrong resolution. Mayor Kim, for some reason, did not bother to advise speakers that the resolution they were addressing had changed.
I expect there were people who wanted a complete ban and would not have been happy with the revision, but they were not informed of the change before they spoke during the public comment period.
Sanghvi should have either:
- Seen to it that the change to the agenda was updated before the meeting or
- Insisted that the item, which was not time-sensitive, be tabled until the next Council meeting so IT could ensure the public could be informed of the change. She should also have informed the entire Council that in the future, she would call for tabling any changed resolution that the IT department had not been given sufficient time to inform the public about.
When the Council reached the point in the agenda to discuss Kim’s “No-Knock Warrant,” Commissioner Montagnino protested that the public was unaware of the change. Sanghvi was silent, and she, along with Kim, Moran, and Golub, proceeded to vote as though there was no problem.
To this day, the agenda on the city’s webcast archive page has the wrong resolution still posted on the agenda.
Small wonder that the Daily Gazette headline inaccurately stated, “City bans no-knock warrants,” as it apparently drew on the obsolete agenda item for the story. BLM apparently did not understand the changes that were made in the resolution at the meeting either, as they continue to boast that they got no-knock warrants banned in the city when they didn’t.
The only way anyone can find out what was actually in the resolution that passed is to wade through the minutes of the meeting or listen to the video to hear Ron Kim read the amended version.
Sometimes The Whole Website Is Inaccessible
On April 29, 2023, the city’s website was down, a problem that has repeatedly occurred. Clicking on the city’s website URL resulted in this:
On April 30, I tried to look up an item on the city’s website. The search produced a relevant item, but when I clicked on it and tried to read the document, I received the following error (a broken link):
“We are sorry there is not a web page matching your entry. Pleases use the search option to help locate this information on our redesigned site.” As the search function produced this error, it wasn’t very helpful.
I then randomly did more searches, and every one produced this error.
As recorded in a previous post, the March 8, 2023, meeting of the Design Review Commission was apparently lost or never recorded, never to be retrieved. It should have been possible to reconstruct what happened at the meeting and at least put up minutes so the public could be informed as to what transpired. It is now over two months later, and Commissioner Sanghvi has taken no action to get something up.
Commissioner Sanghvi’s cavalier attitude toward these continued breakdowns belies her repeated self-congratulations on how transparent she and her office are.
Missing Videos On The City’s “Web Archive Page”
I made my living as a computer programmer, building interfaces that were easy to understand and navigate. The city’s website suffers from a classic design failure. It duplicates the locations of important data without rigorously ensuring that the information is always synchronized.
For a more thorough explanation of this, along with the fact that Commissioner Sanghvi has been repeatedly advised about the problem but has not taken corrective action, these are links to the relevant posts here and here.
The Failure To Maintain The Website Just Keeps Going On
Several people have recently put up comments on this blog asking, “Where are the videos?”
I checked the website, and sure enough, the video of the April 14 pre-agenda council meeting had not been posted on the “webcast archive” page when I checked on April 29, 15 days later, even though it was available to Sanghvi’s staff for posting the day after the meeting. This is in spite of sending her the following email.
Can you explain why the IT department continues to fail to update the video link on the archive page to be in synch with the “Live Meetings Page.” This has been brought to your attention repeatedly but it seems to have no effect.
JKApril 20, 2023 email
On April 25, 2023, Sanghvi responded as follows:
Dear Mr. Kaufmann,
You may find agendas and videos from all city meetings here: https://www.saratoga-springs.org/2637/Live-Meeting-Menu
This automatically uploaded page cited above is the quickest way for the public to view meetings. Other parts of the website are updated regularly; however, our staff must wait for the vendor to provide the recordings that are manually posted. Our staff strives to be diligent about these uploads but there are times when they must attend to cybersecurity programming, equipment maintenance, staff training, and other tasks. It is for that reason we’ve relied on the link above, so that we can ensure the highest level of transparency.
We have provided you this link in previous emails but you insist on finding meetings elsewhere. I can’t cure that. My professor often said, you can take the horse to the water, you cannot make it drink.
Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Springs, NY
This email is both troubling and indicative of how Commissioner Sanghvi responds to issues that are raised with her. Note that I was not asking her about where the video was but advising her that her office was failing to update the webcast archive in a timely manner. Her reply informing me that I could find the video on the city’s Live Meetings Page is astonishing in its irrelevance to my email. It is as though she never read my email or she wanted to deflect criticism from the legitimate problem with her website management.
Her assertion that her staff does not have time to update the site in a timely manner indicates that it is simply not important to her. It also exposes her basic ignorance of the IT operation. Updating the link on the webcast page takes only minutes. The fact that her predecessor, Michele Madigan, was able to properly maintain the webcast archive for ten years should be proof that it can be done.
It is inexplicable to me why Commissioner Sanghvi apparently is uninterested in establishing procedures to ensure timely management of the site. It raises serious questions as to what other activities for which she is responsible are being ignored.
Commissioner Sanghvi Is Oblivious To What It Means To Manage The City’s Website.
So it is no surprise that not only was she criticized by the city’s ethics board because links to her and Mayor Kim’s campaign pages were posted on the city’s website but that even after that, a link to her campaign site appeared yet again.
As has happened in the past, instead of taking responsibility, Commissioner Sanghvi posted on the city’s webpage a statement blaming a staff person for the error.
Sangvhi did not explain who was responsible for posts from her campaign page appearing before this on the city website.
While it is true that people make mistakes, the problems with the city website are so common and so chronic that it is a small wonder that she has a poorly trained staff member who does not understand the procedures they are supposed to follow. The essential problem is poor management.